Fossil of Oldest-Known Ancestors of Modern Dog Found

First Posted: Mar 07, 2013 07:04 AM EST

A fossil tooth discovered by a team of international paleontologists in the Altai Mountains of Siberia yields new evidence about modern-day domestic dogs.

DNA analysis of the fossil confirms that modern dogs existed some 33,000 years ago. Prior to this, dogs were believed to have been domesticated 100,000 years ago; however, the oldest fossil of modern dog dates back to 36,000 years ago and was found in Goyet Cave in Belgium.

The researchers compared DNA evidence of the tooth and lower jaw that was retrieved from the fossil discovered at the Altai Mountain with the DNA samples of wolves and present-day dogs to trace their closeness and to calculate the difference in DNA sequencing. They found that DNA of the fossil was closely related to that of modern-day dogs found in Russia and America when compared to the wolves. The fossil has been named as 'Altai Dog', after the Altai Mountains where it was unearthed.

"Our analyses support the hypothesis that the Altai specimen is more closely related to domestic dogs than to extant wolves," the researchers were quoted as saying in US News. "This preliminary analysis affirms the conclusion that the Altai specimen is likely an ancient dog with a shallow divergence from ancient wolves."

This discovery denies previous assumptions that the domestication of dogs took place in the Middle East or East Asia, as these places were considered to be centers where dogs originated. The new study highlights that they were being domesticated much earlier in Siberia.

Reports according to The Examiner state that the new discovery suggests that early Americans were responsible in transferring the dog across the ice bridges i.e., present Russia and Alaska. The mountains where Altai Dog was found was the location of the Denisova cave that was inhabited by Denisova hominin 40,000 years ago.

The details of the finding were published in the journal PLoS ONE, March 6.

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